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February 23, 2011

Enclosed walkways for working out: Hit and miss

Click to view full postA couple weekends ago, my wife and I packed up our dog and headed to Philadelphia. I ran a race, but we also spent some time checking out the tunnel system under the city, known as the Philadelphia Concourse. I was reminded of that yesterday evening on my way home, as I wished for a tunnel that would take me under certain still-icy stretches of Baltimore's street grid.

I won't get that wish anytime soon, but I can at least write about what I learned in the concourse.

When walking in the tunnels on our Philly trip, I initially posited that they might form an interesting route for people seeking winter exercise -- sort of like mall walking. Here's a map of some key spots where we stopped on our walk (with direction of travel roughly clockwise, starting in the south -- you might have to zoom in):


View Philadelphia concourse - key stops in a larger map

While there is indeed a thriving mall integrated into the system, along with a very nice train station, I wouldn't advise using the general tunnel system as a leisurely strolling area, nor even a place for jogging. You might save yourself a runny nose or two during cold months, but the lack of sunlight isn't worth it: With a few exceptions on the map above, the tunnels are grim and depressing.

That said, the lack of life underground might actually be a good thing for the city. A common idea in planning circles these days is that pushing people out of enclosed walkways and onto the street level keeps foot traffic heavy for local shops, which in turn keeps neighborhoods strong.

In addition to the critiques, I've heard some good things about these systems, especially in northern climates, where it truly can be too cold to walk. (Have a favorite place to exercise indoors? Leave a note.)

In any case, the giant, grade-separated pedestrian system in Philadelphia, encompassing both strengths and flaws, is about to grow again, albeit not underground: The Pennsylvania Convention Center, which is hooked into the system via the old Reading Terminal, is putting the finishing touches on a new extension along what was previously two blocks of Arch Street. The wing opens March 4.

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About Exercists
Andrea Siegel, a reporter at The Baltimore Sun, covers mostly crime and courts in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, as well as legal issues. She wishes she was more physically fit, and, as she's more fond of chocolate than exercise, fitness is a challenge. Her partner on a one-mile-plus daily walk is the family dog, a mixed breed named Moxie, and she exercises at the gym where the D.C. snipers once worked out.
Jerry Jackson has been a photo editor at The Baltimore Sun for 14 years and an avid cyclist for more than 30 years. Inspired by the movie "Breaking Away," he started racing as a teenager in Mississippi when leather "brain baskets" were still the norm. He regularly commutes to work by bike and still enters several mountain bike races a year for fun.
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Patrick Maynard, who will be writing about running and walking, has been a producer for baltimoresun.com since 2008. In 2009, he tweeted on-course for the Sun from the Baltimore Marathon, finishing in just under 4 hours and almost managing to run the whole time. He sometimes walks to the Sun offices on Calvert Street.
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Leeann Adams, a multimedia editor at The Baltimore Sun, also dabbles in content for the mobile website and iPhone app and covers the Ravens via video. She did a triathlon to celebrate her 40th birthday and continues to swim, bike and run -- none of them quickly, though. Her biggest fitness challenge is to balance working, working out, spending time with her husband and being a mom to a 6-year-old boy.
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Anica Butler, the Sun's crime editor, is a former high school runner and recovering vegetarian who spent more of her early-adult years on a bar stool than working out. She is currently training (though poorly) for a half marathon and is trying to live a generally healthier lifestyle. She also hates the gym.
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